At the Council of MLSs first virtual conference Monday, Matthew Ferrara urged multiple listing services to use this time to anticipate members’ future needs.

The change wrought by the coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity for multiple listing services to anticipate agents’ and brokers’ needs in a way that inspires them to be competitive in innovative ways, according to entrepreneur and philosopher Matthew Ferrara.

Ferrara spoke during the first day of the Council of MLSs (CMLS) first virtual conference Monday. He offered advice that could apply to business leaders of all kinds, though he directed his comments at MLSs.

Ferrara emphasized that this is a time for MLS leaders to reconnect to their organization’s core values, make decisions that fulfill those values and shift their mindset toward the future. In other industries, Ferrara pointed out, before the pandemic, stores were experimenting with home delivery and curbside pickup and hospitals were experimenting with telemedicine — now these things are ordinary and common. Don’t miss this moment, Ferrara told conference attendees.

“Leaders have been given permission to grab on to that ring and pull everybody up and forward,” he said.

Matthew Ferrara at CMLS’s annual conference, September 28, 2020

“Ask yourself as a leader: What are consumers signaling right now? What are they doing differently that might stick? How many consumers are getting home delivery of groceries and may never go back to a grocery store again? That might affect your commercial members, for example, and how commercial property will be changing over time.

“But it also will create new opportunities for other businesses which, of course, our members serve through real estate for office space, factory space, different city planning input that we would have. So think about how consumers are changing and how that helps our members get positioned to be part of that change. What are your members doing? How have they rapidly rethought what it means to have an office, connect an office, bring in talent, train that talent, stay connected and coach that talent?”

MLSs must ask themselves what they’re doing to reshape their organizations to not only adapt to what members are doing now, but be ready for them in ways they don’t even know they need yet, according to Ferrara.

“What happens when Generation Work From Home becomes 25 percent of the workforce, 30 percent of the workforce, 40 percent of the workforce? We like to think of all the different ways our members will be able to make more sales or sell bigger houses because of it, but is our organization ready to support them in that? How are we thinking about how will they sell, how will they present, how will they show, how will they do open houses, how will they close deals etc.?” Ferrara said.

For instance, he pointed to the concept of “shop streaming” where people watch other people shopping for things on television.

“We like to think that the consumer goes on to our MLS-driven websites and searches, [but] maybe in the future what consumers will be doing is watching a TV show in the palm of their hands and then saying, ‘I want to buy that very house from that very person talking about it.’ [This is] an outside shift that might be happening that could create future focus,” he said.

“We’ve got to do extra work as leaders, making sure we’re in the know what’s happening, greater society trends, what’s happening in greater e-commerce trends, what kinds of things are just emerging …  that we want to make sure we are keeping our members ahead of,” he added.

In the chat log next to Ferrara’s presentation, Andrew Cristancho of Northern Nevada Regional MLS said Ferrara’s idea reminded him of “really great intuitive service at a restaurant.”

“[D]on’t wait for your customer to ask,” he wrote. “Anticipate what they need and offer it to them before they realize they need it.”

What agents and brokers want from MLSs is not just innovative technologies and tools, but to help them through change, just as they help buyers and sellers through change, according to Ferrara.

“One of the most important roles we do is help take any sense of uncertainty and develop it into small calculated risks,” he said.

“When new things are occurring out there, when there’s potential for new growth, new business models, new opportunity in how they manage their data, new opportunity in how they market and create connection with consumers, there’s always a huge pile of uncertainty they have to navigate.

“What our members really need to know is that you’ll help them break it down, you’ll help them create a pathway through experimentation and trial and adaptation to a phase in which they can adopt and they can be prepared to turn uncertainty into opportunity.”

One way to do that is to communicate about the future differently, according to Ferrara. Instead of coming up with one strategy, MLSs should envision what a change will mean in the best scenario, the worst scenario and the likely scenario and come up with strategies for what the MLS will do in the event of either scenario.

“It’s about preparing our members strategically, not just tactically, to adopt any changes and react to any evolution out there,” he said.

MLSs can serve as “air cover” to agents and brokers who want to try something new to adapt to a change when they don’t know where that change is going, according to Ferrara.

“We want to encourage them to go for it. Try this. Do that. Experiment with that. Certainly there are rules. Certainly there are limits. Certainly there are things we need to keep people within from harming themselves or unintentionally harming other members of the public,” he said.

“But at the same time, our job as leaders is to literally light the fires of competitive experimentation amongst our members to be able to say, ‘Come on, we’ve got you. We’re covering you. We’re keeping an eye out for you. Go to it, and however we can help, we’ll be right there for you.'”

In order to help their subscribers feel that, MLSs must “constantly, continuously and clearly” express to them why they matter to the real estate industry, the public, the economy, and to the MLS as members, according to Ferrara.

“When we as leaders continuously reinforce that importance it continuously strengthens not only the relationship, but the resolve, the sustainability, the flexibility, the resilience our members have to go on journeys with us to say, ‘Okay, I see a vision that you have. I’m going to take a risk with you, but it comes from my belief that you believe I’m important,'” Ferrara said.

It’s also important for MLSs to create a powerful sense of pride in agents regarding their association with the MLS, he said.

“This pride or sense of esteem comes out in lots of different ways. It’s how our members talk to their sales people, it’s how our members talk to the public. It’s how our members stand up and support us when we take strong positions that are necessary to create positive outcomes for the vision we have for our industry,” he said.

“They have to feel as if they are aligned with something they’re proud to be aligned with, and they’re proud to put in the effort to make sure it has the vitality and the support it needs.”

Agents and brokers should also have a strong sense that they’re better off with the MLS than without the MLS, according to Ferrara.

“We have to constantly transmit a strong sense of certainty that we’re going in the right direction. Here’s a report on what we’ve accomplished and what we’re accomplishing. Here’s how you can continue to help us,” he said.

“That is really an area in which great leadership at all levels in the organization from even just the way in which we engage with them on our websites and on the phone and by email, gives them a sense of confidence that, ‘You know what? I really am affiliated with an organization that knows what it’s doing.'”

And MLSs should also offer members a sense of control, Ferrara said — key in an industry where power struggles between brokers and MLSs tend to flare up. Control doesn’t mean subscribers have control over every outcome or decision, but rather that “they just feel like things are happening with them, not just happening to them,” Ferrara said. Members want to feel that the MLS has considered them in its decisions and want to have a sense that the MLS’s growth and the member’s growth are tied together, according to Ferrara.

“We have to make change a whole lot less risky sounding, a whole lot less stressful and much more of a competency,” he said.

“What we do as an MLS and what we do as leaders within that organization is we make sure we explain the urgency for things that are going on, and then connect them to the opportunities, why now’s the time to do this and what growth opportunities they might create.”

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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